Since 2001, the San Diego International Film Festival, which annually receives requests from more than 3,000 independent filmmakers from more than 75 countries, has covered a wide array of topics.
Not afraid to showcase films about homelessness, environmental concerns, animal extinction, sex trafficking and military life, the festival, now in its 21st year, is also dedicated to promoting thoughtful and uplifting cinematic entries that inspire.
And this year’s five-day festival in October will partner for the first time with a local nonprofit to showcase and amplify the diverse voices of a minority in films and filmmaking – women. The SDIFF’s Women’s Film Series will include movies in which two out of three key roles – writer, director or producer – are females.
According to San Diego State University professor Martha Lauzen, a nationally and internationally recognized expert on the employment and representation of women in media, after reaching historic highs in 2020, the percentages of women directing top grossing films declined last year.
Lauzen says women comprised 17% of directors working on the 250 top grossing films in 2021 – down from 18% in 2020, while the percentage of women working as directors on the top 100 films went from 16% in 2020 to 12% last year.
Looking to advance women in the industry and open more eyes, the SDIFF and its
CEO and Artistic Director Tonya Mantooth are teaming up this year with Felicia Shaw, executive director of the San Diego-based Women’s Museum of California to curate, program and run its annual Women’s Film Festival.
The women’s museum has been running the women’s film fest independently for the past nine years and Shaw said combining forces with SDIFF “will help level the playing field.”
“We’ve been a smaller film festival, but we’ve had people submitting films from all over the world,” Shaw said. “We’ve had people from Argentina, from Africa, from Israel… pretty much everywhere.”
Dedicated to Women’s History
Founded in 1983 with administrative offices in Balboa Park and an education center on Euclid Avenue in San Diego, the women’s museum has an archive collection that houses nearly 300 linear feet of material documenting the life and work of prominent female leaders and organizations’ commitment to women’s rights and representation. It is the only museum in California and one of five in the U.S. that is exclusively dedicated to women’s history.
Both the SDIFF and the Women’s Museum of California have a passion for and focus on women filmmakers, and for decades have been working to raise the profile of – and with that funding sources for – women filmmakers. Mantooth and Shaw say that the partnership allows the Women’s Film Festival to reach a broader audience.
Mantooth said there are plans to hold a live panel of female leaders in the filmmaking industry during the festival.
“There is just so much common ground between the work of the Women’s Museum of California and the San Diego International Film Festival,” Shaw said. “Our joint focus on gender equality and equity through storytelling is how we all stay relevant and important to our audiences. Partnering with Tonya and the (SDIFF) allows us to continue to be a part of curating films with a focus on diversity, originality and stories that make an impact on the lives of women. We want to give more women the opportunity to be seen and to get their work out there for more people to see.”
Mantooth and Shaw are part of a growing number of individuals who are seeking to create conversations that focus on the status of women in the film industry, hoping to spotlight women’s work and close the gender gap in Hollywood.
“At a time when women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, just 4.2% of the 100 top-grossing American films are made by female directors; and that statistic hasn’t changed over the last decade,” Mantooth said.
Those statistics are well known to Lauzen, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and a professor of television, film and new media at SDSU.
Lauzen’s annual “Celluloid Ceiling” study, now in its 25th year, examines the representation of women working behind the scenes as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on the top 100 and 250 domestic grossing films in the U.S.
“It is interesting to note that the percentage of women working in these roles was 17% in 1998 and increased to only 25% by 2021,” Lauzen said. “Women remain dramatically under-employed in behind-the-scenes roles.”
Mantooth said that it continues to be important to the SDIFF to use its platform to bring out important social issues that people don’t always know about.
“We live in a little bubble in San Diego,” he said. “We need to stay informed on what is happening in the world, things like immigration and human trafficking.”
She said she was a producer for many years both in Los Angeles and in San Diego and as a female in the field, it was often “a tough road.”
“It’s important to highlight women in film,” Mantooth said. “Women are telling stories that are relevant to women and we need to see those stories on the screen. And as a whole, women need to support women. Hopefully we can lead by example. We are stronger together.”
Mantooth and Shaw also said that the economic impact of film festivals cannot be underestimated, and that they expect San Diego’s to draw well.
Mantooth said festival tourism has “10-to-1 payback” for regions, and noted that New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival, founded in 2002 to help rebuild after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, is now a $140 million to $160 million venture for New York, drawing people from across the globe.
“People will travel for films,” Shaw said. “Just like Comic-Con, people will get on a bus, train or plane to get to where the action is. We’re hoping the festival will generate some TOT for the city.”
This year’s San Diego International Film Festival will run from Oct. 19-23 and includes an opening night film premiere and reception at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, the “Night of the Stars Tribute” at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla, in-person parties, panels and networking events.
Selected films for the 2022 Festival will be announced in early September. There will also be virtual screenings of films available for all five days.
Women’s Museum of California
FOUNDER: Mary Maschal
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Felicia W. Shaw
HEADQUARTERS: Balboa Park, San Diego
BUSINESS: Nonprofit cultural institution
CONTACT: (619) 939-5234
NOTABLE: Women’s Museum of California is one of only five brick-and-mortar cultural institutions in the U.S. that is devoted to women.